And thus began the part he always loathed. The seemingly long walk through makeshift corridors comprised of wagons and tents. There were peasants that lived in finer housing than his master, still – not the title makes the man, man fills the title with fear. The agent had served under many Gates but this one was special. He always laughed about the rumours the common folk would spread about the Caliph’s elite – offspring of the gods, witches, demons; all powerful, immortal and awe abiding. A fun story over a good beer usually but this time he wasn’t too sure if he shouldn’t join the peasants in their naïve fear, after all it kept them alive and he always has been fond of remaining breathing.
This lust for life was what had made him one of the best in his craft. Even though well aged by now, he was looking back at a glorious past of fearlessness, bravery and commitment. The visions of his past were utterly disrupted by the tremble in his hands. He nearly had made it to the main tent and fear was shacking him like a young tree in a storm. Walking these simple halls had the same grandeur he would feel when walking through the enormous temples of his childhood. This, however, was a cursed temple of shadows – its incense the vicious smell of the back alleys, its gold the dirt on rotting fabric, its divinity soaked in death.
He took a deep breath and steadied his mind. His hands produced the invitation from his robes and with the decisive step that was so typical for him he entered. As was caliphate court protocol there would never be a source of light, any direct conversation and no eye contact with the Gate of the West. Swiftly upon brushing through the veils and cloths that separated the hall and the main tent he would sit in a humble position and bow as deep as his nimble but broken body would allow him to. He always has been curious, it was his nature and – as has been tradition – he took yet another well concealed look into the darkness whilst bowing.
He filled his research with the nonsensical and strenuous greeting that was so loved by everyone at home. His people loved titles. Then he saw it – the silhouette in absolute darkness, the silhouette that seemed to devour the black around it, shift in its form and be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Struggling to keep his composure he began his report. “The ambassador has received his instructions. He has already been very useful. He is a fool but he will be of service.” he said whilst unrolling the invitation to the Stumble-Bum fete.
Silence befell the scene. He had done his reporting but it did not feel like he was done. He knew he was waiting, they all had for years now. Impatience was messing with his posture and he was fighting his body to remain still. In the swirling of anticipation and restlessness he almost forgot where he was when a voice cut through the silence. It was a sweet female tone though it resembled nothing of the nurturing, motherly nature one would expect to hear carrying with it.
“It is time. Tell the others.” the voice whispered and the room sank back into black silence. He could feel the darkness bending into a malicious smile. Leaving as the shaken tree that he had arrived as he made his way back through the unholy halls of this foul temple. Mumbling, he recalled his earlier thought “not the title makes the man, man fills the title with fear.” And by the gods, how afraid he was.
Only a few hours later the Stumble-Bum Manor’s request for exotic evening entertainment had a satisfying response. Sallah, to honour the arrival of His Excellency Azrael al-Ahmad, had procured Madame Desdemona and assured the good Lord Stumble-Bum that her show had never failed to absolutely dazzle. Furthermore, for the purpose of service and wellbeing of the many guests, Sallah offered the helping hand of a dozen of his most trusted and capable servants.